Meet the Candidates

Mark Fickes is a trial attorney who has prosecuted civil rights, fraud, and whistleblower cases. He once served as deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County and was an attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Elena Condes is an attorney and community activist with the East Bay La Raza Lawyers Association. She is endorsed by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carol Brosnahan, the holder of this seat who announced her retirement last year after 40 years on the bench.

Lilla Szelenyi is a workers compensation judge in Oakland. During an endorsement meeting in Alameda this month, she quipped the speed of the case she hears as “civil litigation on crack.”

What’s the Beef?

Unfortunately, there is no beef. In fact, there can’t be a beef between the judicial candidates. Since judges can’t risk prejudicing themselves by commenting on specific issues, it makes differentiating between the candidates quite difficult. However, on procedural issues, the three candidates are pretty much in agreement.

Judicial campaigns in Alameda County tend to become a race to show who has the highest level of identity politics in the field.

When it comes to the recall of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky two years ago for what critics called a lenient sentence for a Stanford student convicted of sexual assault, the trio of prospective candidate agreed that recalling a sitting judge over a legal decision has a chilling effect in courtrooms. Instead, voters should have been able to vote Persky out of office, they said.


But, overall, the lack of debate in judicial races is a reason why some believe voters shouldn’t even be voting for superior court judges in the first place. The other reason is a vast majority of the judges in Alameda County up for re-election this year don’t have to worry about appearing on the primary ballot. That’s because they run unopposed. There were more than two dozen Alameda County Superior Court judges up for re-election this year, but only one appears on the ballot. In almost all cases it’s because the sitting judge opts for retirement. That’s the case here with the retirement of Brosnahan.

In recent years, what tends to happen with judicial campaigns in Alameda County is it becomes a race to show who has the highest level of identity politics in the field. Fickes would be only the second openly gay judge in Alameda County, he said. Condes is a Latinx lesbian, of which there has never been more than two in the county court’s history, she said, and Selenyi is a woman, but also the only candidate among the three that is an experienced judge. All three have shown a high level of competence for the job, based on their public appearances together.

Fickes received the Alameda County Democratic Party’s endorsement. The tally was quite large, too. So, he may have an advantage in getting his name out there. Brosnahan’s endorsement of Condes is big, too. Here’s the sad part: Way down ballot races like this one sometime come down to which candidate is listed first on the ballot and who has the most compelling ballot designation.

November runoff: 1. Condes 2. Fickes.